Mindset Development: The New Competitive Advantage

Download Now: Free Marketing Plan Template
Allison Kent-Smith
Allison Kent-Smith




The advertising and marketing industry is obsessed with shiny objects -- the shinier the better. Our attention is focused on hiring employees who understand the latest platform, process, tool, or software. We compete for talented superstars with startups, technology, design, product companies, and more.

But the landscape of talent has dramatically shifted. The truth is -- you can’t buy all the talent you need any longer. Competition is fierce for the savviest of contributors, and there simply is not enough talent to go around. So what do you do?

Innovative companies are now actively developing the skillsets they need. But beyond this, many leaders have discovered that behavior and mindset development are essential because how employees act (behaviors, beliefs, attitudes, values, and readiness) makes all the difference.

The 7 Mindsets to Develop in Top Talent

Below are the top mindsets for you to consider training for with input from a few industry leaders:

1) Human-centered: attention to needs, wants, and limitations of end-users of a product, service, or process.

As the landscape shifts to the consumer brand co-construction, the employee who understands behaviors, needs, wants, and actions of a diverse group of consumers ­­wins.

“After 20 years of designing experiences I believe that success in the field comes down to two core tenets: 1) Design things for people, 2) Those people are not you. The first tenet, designing for people, is an important craft with best practices and established methods that will generally lead toward viable solutions for customers. However, it takes humility and strength to step outside of yourself to truly recognize and embrace the specific goals, motivations, and behaviors of the people that you are designing for. It forces teams to approach the craft in a more holistic manner. It makes your team more curious, your insights sharper, and your solution more relevant. This often means the difference between good work and great work."

- Tim Allen | President, North America Wolff Olins

2) Adaptable: able to readily adjust oneself to different conditions.

Change is omnipresent. Employees who are able to flex, adjust, and experiment survive and thrive. The more adaptable the individual contributor, the better.

I always talk to digital veterans -- people who’ve built lots of things, lived through all the design and tech trends (remember 'write once, run anywhere?' remember several waves of it?) -- and everyone agrees that there are no silver bullets and that most things which are true today will change in 18 months. Your products aren’t just in perpetual beta, so is your skillset, mindset, and toolkit.

- Kip Voytek | CEO, Rumblefox

3) Curious: strong desire to know or learn something.

An employee who seeks out new experiences, absorbs, transforms, remixes, and challenges herself to learn is the person to retain.

Curiosity is critical to creative thought because most creative thinking in any field begins with interrogating a situation to understand if you have defined the problem properly. In marketing communications, this often begins with a category question: How do people go about searching for a new mobile phone? What triggers the need in the first place? Who or what influences selection? What are the barriers to purchase? Once we have defined the problem, we can search for the right solution. And that inspires a new set of questions. You have to be curious to create. You have to be hungry for information and driven to find answers.

- Bruce Henderson | Chief Creative Officer, Jack Morton Worldwide (starting 2016)

4) Receptive: willing to consider or accept new suggestions and ideas.

The receptive mind leaves ego at the door and remains open to the full spectrum of opportunity finding and problem-solving. Individuals who are receptive to new ways of working, iteration, and experimentation are often the most innovative contributors.

An increasingly important quality we seek to understand when evaluating a new team member is the ability of the individual to receive and synthesize ideas that challenge their existing biases. The individual who has mastery over their biases and who is receptive to new ideas will see around corners for us.

- Toby Krout | Executive Director, Boomtown Accelerator

5) Discriminating: differentiating, analytical, and mindful.

A discriminating mindset is an asset. These employees are able to focus on deeper dimensions of work such as the aesthetic, cognitive, and connectedness. In a world vying for our attention, directed focus is essential for all roles.

Discriminating is a mindset developed over a lifetime of comparisons -- scrutiny of what humans produce such as things, events, institutions, and personalities. It is a critical thinking skill and requires the courage to not always be popular. Rudimentary command of judgment, analysis, synthesis, and communication are required. Not included is the use of 'I like it' or 'I have the power, so I know best!'  -- two common examples from corporate culture. Discrimination also helps the critical thinker to combine domain skills, theoretical knowledge, and earned business smarts on a problem in an efficient, collaborative, and hopefully meaningful or novel way.

- Lori Kent, Ed.D. | Learning Experience Director, smith & beta

6) Empathetic: the psychological identification of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of others.

Humans are connected: We work in teams. The ability to empathize helps us understand a broader spectrum of experience and contribution. Having empathy leads us down the path of great design, ideas that resonate, and experiences that matter.

As we create more ideas that are digital at heart and powered by new technology, we need a wider range of skills embedded in our agency teams. This often means generalists and specialists who've never have worked together before with wildly different backgrounds must find instantaneous chemistry. This can either be a car crash or a wonderful orchestra-like production depending on the level of empathy everyone brings to the table.

- Adam Tucker | President Ogilvy & Mather Advertising, New York

7) Geeky: a digital-technology expert or enthusiast.

We’ve shifted from a mechanical age to a more elusive yet connected digital age that often centers on data, code, and making. “Geek” was a diminutive label until Silicon Valley made us aware of its importance within highly competitive fields. Geeks dig in, explore, tinker, solder, build, and experiment ­-- we should go to battle to hire more of them.

It's no longer just about building the thing right -- process, aesthetics, distribution, etc. It's about building the right thing. This requires a willingness to replace the Madison-Avenue-Don-Draper mindset with the Silicon Valley hypothesize-test-iterate-optimize approach.

- Leslie Bradshaw | Managing Director Made By Many New York

If you want to evolve your company’s capabilities, design an education program to develop these employee mindsets and watch what happens with collaboration, ideas, and innovation. Employees want to stretch and contribute beyond just the obvious skillsets. Give them a chance with mindsets curriculum that matters.


Topics: Agency Talent

Related Articles


Outline your company's marketing strategy in one simple, coherent plan.

    Marketing software that helps you drive revenue, save time and resources, and measure and optimize your investments — all on one easy-to-use platform